Lacan’s Seminar on “The Purloined Letter” : Overview : 1988 : John P. Muller and William J. Richardson

by Julia Evans on January 1, 1988

p55-76 of John P. Muller and William J. Richardson (eds) The Purloined Poe: Lacan, Derrida and Psychoanalytic Reading : 1988: Baltimore MD and London : The John Hopkins University Press

Lacan’s Seminar on “The Purloined Letter: an Overview : 1988 : Available here

Further Information : The Purloined Poe: Lacan, Derrida and Psychoanalytic Reading : 1988 : John P. Muller and William J. Richardson (Editors & Authors) or here

Key texts – updated references:

Note: In citations with no date, the first page number refers to one of the following, and the second to the French original, further information, Écrits : 1966 : Jacques Lacan or here

Thomas Ollive Mabbott, Text of “The Purloined Letter,” with Notes   [p3-27]

Now available on request from je.lacanian@icloud.com

Jacques Lacan, Seminar on “The Purloined Letter,” translated by Jeffrey Mehlman             [p28-54]

Note : This translation does not include Lacan’s three appendices to the text ‘Le séminaire sur “La Lettre volée”’: as published in Écrits : Paris, du Seuil: 1966 : p11-61 : Available here

See Seminar on ‘The Purloined Letter’ : 26th April 1955 : Jacques Lacan or here

References

Note: These give the availability of references for which a name and date is given. For citations with no date see above.

P55 : (1978b) : Seminar II: The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis: 1954-1955: begins 17th November 1954 : Jacques Lacan : See here

P55 (1955a [1920] : Beyond the Pleasure Principle: 1920g : Sigmund Freud

P55 Introduction to ‘Seminar on The Purloined Poe’ : Seminar on ‘The Purloined Letter’ : 26th April 1955 : Jacques Lacan : See here

P55 (1954b [1895]) : The Project for a Scientific Psychology: 23rd & 25th September & 5th October 1895: Sigmund Freud : See here

P56 (1966a, 45) : Introduction to ‘Seminar on The Purloined Poe’ : op. cit.

P56 (1966a, 46) : ibid.

P56 (Lacan 1977) 234/594 : P234 of Alan Sheridan’s translation of The Direction of the Treatment and the Principles of its Power:10th-13th July 1958 : Jacques Lacan : See here : published Écrits, a selection (Jacques Lacan) : 1977 : Alan Sheridan : See here : Quote : For interpretation is based on no assumption of divine archetypes, but on the fact that the unconscious is structured in the most radical way like (comme) a language, that a material operates in it according to certain laws, …..

P56 (Lacan 1977, 154/503) : p154 of Alan Sheridan’s translation of The Agency (Insistence or Instance) of the Letter in the Unconscious or Reason since Freud (Sorbonne, Paris) : 9th May 1957 : Jacques Lacan : See here : Quote : We are forced, then, to accept the notion of an incessant sliding of the signified under the signifier – which Ferdinand de Saussure illustrates with an image resembling the wavy lines of the upper and lower Waters in miniatures of ‘Genesis’; a double flux marked by fine streaks of rain, vertical dotted lines supposedly confining segments of correspondence.

All our experience runs counter to this linearity, which made me speak once, in one of my seminars on psychosis, of something more like ‘anchoring points’ (‘points de capiton’) as a schema for taking into account the dominance of the letter in the dramatic transformation that dialogue can effect in the subject. Seminar III : 6th June 1956 : p243-244 of Russell Grigg’s translation : Whether it be a sacred text, a novel, a play, a monologue, or any conversation whatsoever, allow me to represent the function of the signifier by a spatializing device, which we have no reason to deprive ourselves of this Point around which all concrete analysis of discourse must operate I shall call quilting point. : See Seminar III: The Psychoses: 1955-1956: from 16th November 1955: Jacques Lacan or here

P56 (Lévi-Strauss 1978) : 1978 : Preface : in Roman Jakobson, : Six lectures on sound and meaning, 1942-1943 : translated J. Mepham : pxi-xxvi : Cambridge, MIT Press

P56 (Lacan 1977, 73/285) : p73 of Alan Sheridan’s translation : See The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis (Rome) : 26th September 1953 : Jacques Lacan or here Quote, probably! : It is up to us to make use of these advances to discover their effects in the domain of psychoanalysis, just as ethnography- which is on a line parallel to our own- has already done for its own by deciphering myths according to the synchrony of mythemes.

Isn’t it striking that Lévi-Straussi, in suggesting the implication of the structures of language with that part of the social laws that regulate marriage ties and kinship, is already conquering the very terrain in which Freud situates the unconscious. [Footnote 6l : Claude Lévi-Strauss, ‘Language and the Analysis of Social Laws’, American Anthropologist, Vol 53, No. 2 (April-June 1951), p155-163]

From now on, it is impossible not to make a general theory of the symbol the axis of a new classification of the sciences where the sciences of man will once more take up their central position as sciences of subjectivity. Let me indicate its basic principle, which, of course, does not preclude further elaboration.

The symbolic function presents itself as a double movement within the subject : man makes an object of his action, but only in order to restore to this action in due time its place as a grounding. In this equivocation, operating at every instant, lies the whole process of a function in which action and knowledge alternate. [Footnote 62 : The last four paragraphs have been rewritten (1966)]

P57 (Lévi-Strauss 1963, p58-59) : 1963. Language and the analysis of social laws. In ‘Structural anthropology’ translated C. Jacobson and B. Schoepf, p55-66, New York: Basic Books. Originally published 1951.

All other references on p57 and following, the first page number refers to the English translation by Mehlman (Chapter 2 of The Purloined Poe: Lacan, Derrida and Psychoanalytic Reading : 1988 : John P. Muller and William J. Richardson (Editors & Authors) : See here) and the second to the French edition of Écrits : 1966 : Jacques Lacan : See here

P58 (Lacan 1972b, 38.) : p38 of Jeffrey Mehlman’s translation, published in YFS : Availability Seminar on ‘The Purloined Letter’ : 26th April 1955 : Jacques Lacan or here : The crux of the problem is in the ambiguity of the term letter in Lacan’s analysis. It may mean either topographical character or epistle. Why?

  1. a) As topographical character, the letter is a unit of signification without any meaning in itself. In this it resembles the “memory trace,” which for Freud is never the image of an event, but a term which takes on meaning only through its differential opposition to other traces.

….

  1. b) As epistle, the letter allows Lacan to play on the intersubjective relations which expropriate the individual. (“To whom does a letter belong?”) It is Lévi-Strauss (and Mauss) who are no doubt at the source of this effort to think of the Oedipus complex in terms of a structure of exchange crucial to the ” fixation” of unconscious “memory traces.”

P58 (1966, 120; Lacan 1972b, 54n.) : From References p379 of Muller & Riachardson : Saussure, F. de. 1966. Course in general linguistics. Ed. C. Bally and A. Sechehaye, trans. W. Baskin. New York: McGraw-Hill. Originally published 1916

: p54 of Jeffrey Mehlman’s translation, published in YFS : Availability Seminar on ‘The Purloined Letter’ : 26th April 1955 : Jacques Lacan or here : For the signifier is a unit in its very uniqueness, being by nature symbol only of an absence. Which is why we cannot say of the purloined letter that, like other objects, it must be or not be in a particular place but that unlike them it will be and not be where it is, wherever it goes. [Footnote 24 : Cf. Saussure, Cours de linguistique générale, Paris, 1969, p. 166 : “The preceding amounts to saying that in language there are only differences. Even more: a difference presupposes in general positive terms between which it is established, but in language there are only differences without positive terms.”­ Ed.]

p64 (Lacan 1978b, 256) : Seminar II, 11th May 1955 : p219-220 of Sylvana Tomaselli’s translation : See Seminar II: The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis: 1954-1955: begins 17th November 1954 : Jacques Lacan or here : Quote : In so far as the subject exists, in so far as he sustains his existence, in so far as he raises the question of his existence. this subject with whom you are in dialogue in analysis and whom you cure through the art of speech, his essential reality consists in the junction of reality and the appearance of tables of presence. That doesn’t mean that it’s him who creates them all. What I’m going blue in the face telling you is precisely that they are already made. The game is already played, the die already cast. It is already cast, with the following proviso, that we can pick it up again, and throw it anew. The game has been going on a long time. Everything I’m showing you is already part of a story concerning which one can pronounce every possible and imaginable oracle. That is why the Augurs can’t look each other in the face without laughing. It isn’t because they tell each other – You ‘re having them on. If Tiresias encounters another Tiresias, he laughs. But in fact he can’t encounter another, because he is blind, and not without reason. Don’t you feel there’s something derisory and funny about the fact that the die has already been cast?

P65 (1966, 120; Lacan 1972b, 62) : p61-62 of Jeffrey Mehlman’s translation, published in YFS : Availability Seminar on ‘The Purloined Letter’ : 26th April 1955 : Jacques Lacan or here : Quote : Here sign and being, marvelously asunder, reveal which is victorious when they come into conflict. A man man-enough to defy to the point of scorn a lady’s fearsome ire undergoes to the point of metamorphosis the curse of the sign he has dispossessed her of.

For this sign is indeed that of woman, in so far as she invests her very being therein, founding it outside the law, which subsumes her nevertheless, originarily, in a position of signifier, nay, of fetish. [Footnote 33 : The fetish, as replacement for the missing maternal phallus, at once masks and reveals the scandal of sexual difference. As such it is the analytic object par excellence. The female temptation to exhibitionism, understood as a desire to be the (maternal) phallus, is thus tantamount to being a fetish.-Ed.]

P65 (Lacan 1977, 281-91/685-95) : See Alan Sheridan’s translation in The Meaning (or Signification) of the Phallus (Munich): 9th May 1958 : Jacques Lacan or here

P66 (1966a, 379) : See Introduction and reply to Jean Hyppolite’s presentation of Freud’s ‘Verneinung’ & the commentary : 10th February 1954 : Jacques Lacan & Jean Hyppolite or here : p316 of Bruce Fink’s translation : Quote : But can we confine our attention to repression here? I can, of course, assure you that repression is at work here thanks to the overdeterminations Freud himself supplies us with regarding the phenomenon; and we can also confirm here, thanks to the relevance of these circumstances the import of what I want to convey to you with the formulation, “the unconscious is the Other’s discourse.”

For the man who breaks the bread of truth with his semblable in the act of speech shares a lie.

But is that the whole story? Could the speech that was excised lretranchée] here avoid being extinguished before being-toward-death when speech approached it at a level at which only witticisms are still viable, appearances of seriousness no longer seeming to be anything but hypocritical in responding to its gravity?

Hence death brings the question of what negates lnie] discourse, but also the question whether or not it is death that introduces negation into discourse. For the negativity of discourse, insofar as it brings into being that which is not, refers us to the question of what nonbeing, which manifests itself in the symbolic order,owes to the reality of death.

P66 (1977, 121/409) : p121 of Alan Sheridan’s translation of The Freudian Thing or the Meaning of the Return to Freud in Psychoanalysis : (Vienna) 7th November 1955 : Jacques Lacan : See here : Quote : Section, The thing speaks of itself : … : Several cases observed in the game of forfeits, of sudden transformations of errors into truths, which seemed to be due to nothing more than perseverance, set them on the path of this discovery. The discourse of error, its articulation in acts, could bear witness to the truth against evidence itself. It was at this point that one of them tried to get the cunning of reason accepted into the rank of objects worthy of study. Unfortunately, he was a professor, …

P66 (Richardson 1983b, p149-52 ) : 1983b. Psychoanalysis and the being question. In ‘Interpreting Lacan’, ed. Joseph H. Smith and William Kerrigan, 139-59. Psychiatry and the Humanities, vol. 6. New Haven : Yale University Press

P67 (1966a, 10) : p4 to 5 of Bruce Fink’s translation of Écrits : 1966 : Jacques Lacan : See here : Quote from ‘Overture to this Collection’ : October 1966 : Jacques Lacan : Our task brings back this charming lock, in the topological sense of the term [boucle also means loop]: a knot whose trajectory closes on the basis of its inverted redoubling – namely, such as I have recently formulated it as sustaining the subject’s structure.

It is here that my students would be right to recognize the “already” for which they sometimes content themselves with less well-founded homologies.

For I decipher here in Poe’s fiction, which is so powerful in the mathematical sense of the term, the division in which the subject is verified in the fact that an object traverses him without them interpenetrating in any respect, this division being at the crux of what emerges at the end of this collection that goes by the name of object a (to be read: little a).

P67 : Note, the three appendices to the text ‘Le séminaire sur “La Lettre Volée”’: as published in Écrits : Paris, du Seuil: 1966 : p11-61 : Available, in Bruce Fink’s translation, here

P68 (Lacan 1975b, 108) : Seminar XX : 15th May 1973 : See Seminar XX: Encore: 1972 – 1973: from 21st November 1972 : Jacques Lacan or here : See pXII 1 – XII 2 of Cormac Gallagher’s translation : I am going to say the function, I am going to say it once more because I am repeating myself, I am going to say once more something which is a saying (dire) of mine which is stated as : there is no metalanguage.

When I say that, I am apparently speaking about the language of being, apart from the fact that of course as I pointed out the last time, what I say is that there is none. But being is, in other words non-being is not. There is or there is not.

For me it is only a matter of what is said (dit). Being is presupposed in certain words, individual for example, or substance. It is even designed to say that: that being is supposed in the individual, among others. This word subject that I use, as you are going to see, I will come back to it, obviously takes on a different emphasis because of my discourse.

In a word, I forewarn you, I distinguish myself from the Language of being. This implies that there may be word fictions. I mean starting from the word. And as perhaps some of you may remember, this is where I started in order to speak about Ethics. It is not because I wrote things which play the function of form of language that I am assuring the being of metalanguage. Because I would have to present this being as subsisting by itself, by itself alone; the language of being.

Mathematical formalisation which is our goal, our ideal, why? Because it alone is matheme, namely, capable of being transmitted integrally. Mathematical formalisation is something written. And this is what I will try to go into today.

Now this mathematical formalisation only subsists if I employ in presenting it the tongue I use. Therein lies the objection. No formalisation of the tongue is transmissble without the use of the tongue itself. It is through my saying that I make ex-sist this formalisation, ideal metalanguage. Thus it is that the symbolic is not to be confused, far from it, with being. But that it subsists as ex-sistance of saying.

P68 (1966, 42) : From the Appendix ‘Presentation of the Suite : probably 1957’ to Seminar on ‘The Purloined Letter’ : 26th April 1955 : Jacques Lacan : p30 of Bruce Fink’s translation see here

P68 Beyond the Pleasure Principle: 1920g : Sigmund Freud

P68 (1954b[1895]) : See The Project for a Scientific Psychology: 23rd & 25th September & 5th October 1895: Sigmund Freud : or here

P68 (1966a, 45; Lacan’s emphasis) : (1966, 42) : From the Appendix ‘Presentation of the Suite’ to Seminar on ‘The Purloined Letter’ : 26th April 1955 : Jacques Lacan : p34 of Bruce Fink’s translation see here : quote : What is revamped here was already articulated in the “Project”, in which Freud’s divination traced the avenues his research would force him to go down the Ψ system, a predecessor of the unconscious, manifests its originality therein, in that it is unable to satisfy itself except by refinding an object that has been fundamentally lost.

P70 (Lacan 1978b, 228) : Seminar II, 27th April 1955 : p196-197 of Sylvana Tomaselli’s translation : See Seminar II: The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis: 1954-1955: begins 17th November 1954 : Jacques Lacan or here : Quote: The letter is here synonymous with the original. radical. subject. What we find here is the symbol being displaced in its pure state, which one cannot come into contact with without being immediately caught in its play. Thus, the tale of The Purloined Letter signifies that there’s nothing in destiny, or causality, which can be defined as a function of existence. One can say that, when the characters get a hold of this letter, something gets a hold of them and carries them along and this something clearly has dominion over their individual idiosyncracies . Whoever they might be, at this stage of the symbolic transformation of the letter, they will be defined solely by their position in relation to this radical subject, by their position in one of the CH3s. This position isn’t fixed. In so far as they have entered into the necessity, into the movement peculiar to the letter, they each become, in the course of successive scenes, functionally different in relation to the essential reality which it constitutes. In other words, to take this story up again in its exemplary form, for each of them the letter is his unconscious. It is his unconscious with all of its consequences, that is to say that at each point in the symbolic circuit, each of them becomes someone else.

That is what I am going to try to show you.

P71 (Lacan 1966a, 52) : From the Appendix ‘Introduction : probably 1957’ to Seminar on ‘The Purloined Letter’ : 26th April 1955 : Jacques Lacan : p39 of Bruce Fink’s translation see here : Quote : For there is no other link [lien] than that of this symbolic determination in which the signifying overdetermination, the notion of which Freud brings us, can be situated, and which was never able to be conceived of as a real over-determination by a mind like his – everything contradicting the idea that he abandoned himself to this conceptual aberration in which philosophers and physicians find it all too easy to calm their religious excitations.

This position regarding the autonomy of the symbolic is the only position that allows us to clarify the theory and practice of free association in psychoanalysis. For relating its mainspring to symbolic determination and to its laws is altogether different from relating it to the scholastic presuppositions of an imaginary inertia that prop it up in associationism, whether philosophical or pseudophilosophical, before claiming to be experimental. Having abandoned its examination, psychoanalysts find here yet another jumping-off point for the psychologizing confusion into which they constantly fall, some of them deliberately.

P71 (1955a [1920] : Beyond the Pleasure Principle: 1920g : Sigmund Freud

P72 (Wo es war soll Ich werden : Where it was I must come to be : e.g. Lacan 1977, 171) :

This quote is from the last paragraph of Lecture XXXI: Dissection of the personality: 1932 : published in New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis : Sigmund Freud : 1932 (Published 1933)

P171 of Alan Sheridan’s translation : The Agency (Insistence or Instance) of the Letter in the Unconscious or Reason since Freud (Sorbonne, Paris) : 9th May 1957 : Jacques Lacan : See here : Section III The letter, being and the other :

Is what thinks in my place, then, another I? Does Freud’s discovery represent the confirmation, on the level of psychological experience, of Manicheism?

In fact, there is no confusion on this point: what Freud’s researches led us to is not a few more or less curious cases of split personality. Even at the heroic epoch I have been describing, when, like the animals in fairy stories, sexuality talked, the demonic atmosphere that such an orientation might have given rise to never materialized.

The end that Freud’s discovery proposes for man was defined by him at the apex of his thought in these moving terms: Wo es war, soll lch werden. I must come to the place where that was,

This is one of reintegration and harmony, I could even say of reconciliation (Versöhnung).

Other references by Jacques Lacan to Sigmund Freud’s ‘Wo es war, soll Ich werden':

Seminar XI : 29th January 1964 : p33 of Alan Sheridan’s translation & Seminar XI : 5th February 1964 : p44 of Alan Sheridan’s translation : Seminar XI: The Four Fundamental Concepts: 1963-1964 : beginning 15th January 1964 : Jacques Lacan or here  both refer to ‘Wo Es war, soll Ich werden’ in the last paragraph.

Notes from p1 – 7 of Seminar VII from the 21-09-12 Reading Group Meeting by Julia Evans or here /Reference to ‘Wo Es war, soll Ich werden’

Seminar VII : 18th November 1959 : Reference to ‘Wo es war, soll Ich werden’ on p7 of Alan Sheridan’s translation of Seminar VII: The ethics of psychoanalysis: 1959-1960: Jacques Lacan : See here

Reference to ‘Wo es war, soll Ich werden’ : The Freudian Thing or the Meaning of the Return to Freud in Psychoanalysis : (Vienna) 7th November 1955 : Jacques Lacan or here

P72 (1966a 53) : From the Appendix ‘Introduction : probably 1957’ to Seminar on ‘The Purloined Letter’ : 26th April 1955 : Jacques Lacan : p40 of Bruce Fink’s translation see here : Thus, if man comes to think about the sumbolic order, it is because he is first caught in it in his being. The illusion that he has formed this order through his consciousness stems from the fact that it is through the pathway of a specific gap in his imaginary relationship with his semblable that he has been able to enter into this order as a subject. But he has only been able to make this entrance by passing through the radical defile of speech, a genetic moment of which we have seen in a child’s game, but which, in its complete form, is reproduced each time the subject addresses the Other as aboslute, that is, as the Other who can annul him himself, just as he can act accordingly with the Other, that is, by making himself into an object in order to deceive the Other. This dialectic of intersubjectivity, the necessary usage of which I have demonstrated in the course of the past three years of my seminar at Saint Anne Hospital, from the theory of transference to the structure of paranoia, …

P73 (Lacan 1978b, 345) : Seminar II, 22nd June 1955 : p299-300 of Sylvana Tomaselli’s translation : See Seminar II: The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis: 1954-1955: begins 17th November 1954 : Jacques Lacan or here : Quote : What Pascal develops with the arithmetic triangle, the first machine, has a claim on the attention of the scientific world, in that it enables one to determine immediately what a gambler has a right to expect at any given moment when the succession of turns which make up a game is interrupted. A succession of turns is the simplest form one can give to the idea of the encounter. As long as one hasn’t come to the end of the sequence of turns fixed by convention, something can be evaluated, that is, the possibilities of the encounter as such. What’s at issue is the place, and what does or doesn’t come to fill it, something then which is strictly equivalent to its own inexistence. The science of what is found at the same place is substituted for by the science of the combination of places as such. It arises in an ordered register which assuredly assumes the notion of the turn, that is, the notion of scansion.

Everything which up until then had been the science of numbers becomes a combinatory science. The more or less confused, accidental traversal of the world of symbols is organised around the correlation of absence and presence. And the search for the laws of presence and absence will tend towards the establishing of the binary order which leads to what we call cybernetics.

P73 (Lacan 1978b, 346) : Seminar II, 22nd June 1955 : p300 of Sylvana Tomaselli’s translation : See Seminar II: The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis: 1954-1955: begins 17th November 1954 : Jacques Lacan or here : Quote : In the game of chance no doubt he will test his luck [chance], but also he is going to read his destiny in it. He has the idea that something is revealed there, which belongs to him, and, I would say, all the more so given that there is no one confronting him.

I’ve told you how the entire movement of the theory converges on a binary symbol, on the fact that anything can be written in terms of 0 and 1 . What else is needed before what we call cybernetics can appear in the world?

It has to function in the real, independently of any subjectivity, This science of empty places, of encounters in and of themselves has to be combined, has to be totalised and has to start functioning all by itself.

What is required for that?

P74 (Lacan 1978b, 213-214) : Seminar II, 23rd March 1955 : p187 of Sylvana Tomaselli’s translation (The whole session is probably relevant, but towards the end is quoted : See Seminar II: The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis: 1954-1955: begins 17th November 1954 : Jacques Lacan or here : Quote : But that isn’t the point. What is it that makes is rather improbable tale so convincing? After all, it is surprising that the police didn’t find the letter in the course of their ransack. To explain that, Poe places intersubjectivity in the forefront – the clever guy goes to the limit of what is unthinkable for the other, and as such will escape. But if you read the tale for its fundamental value, you will realise that there’s another key, which makes the whole thing hang together, and which brings with conviction, whereas, if presented somewhat differently, the story wouldn’t interest us for one moment.

It 
seems to me, that you analysts, you should recognise this key immediately – it is simply the identity of the symbolic formula of the situation, in the two principal steps in its development. The Queen thought the letter was safe because there it was, bang in front of everybody. And the minister also leaves it out in the open, thinking that therefore it can’t be taken. It isn’t because he is a strategician, but because he is a poet, that he wins, until the intervention of the super-poet, Dupin.

Nothing in the way of intersubjectivity is decisive here, because once the measures of the real are made tight, once a perimeter, a volume, is defined once and for all, there is nothing to lead one to suspect that when all is said and done even a letter might escape. If nonetheless the fact that they can’t find it is convincing, it is because the domain of significations continues to exist, even in the mind ‘of people assumed to be as stupid as policemen. If the police do not find it, it isn’t only because it is in too accessible a place, but as a consequence of this signification, namely that a letter of great value, upon which the might of the State now bears, with the rewards which may accrue in such a case, has to be hidden with exceeding care. Quite naturally, the slave assumes that the master is a master, and that when he has something precious within his reach, he grabs it. In the same way, one thinks that when one has reached a certain point of comprehension in psychoanalysis, one can grab it and say – Here it is, we’ve got it. On the contrary, signification as such is never where one thinks it must be.

The merit of the apologue is of this order. It is on the basis of the analysis of the symbolic value of the different moments in the drama that its coherence, and even its psychological motivation, can be discovered.

It isn’t a game for the subtlest, it isn’t a psychological game, it is a dialectical game.

P74 (Lacan 1978b, 224) : Seminar II, 30th March 1955 : p190 – see below – (or p179-180) of Sylvana Tomaselli’s translation (The whole session is probably relevant, but towards the end is quoted : See Seminar II: The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis: 1954-1955: begins 17th November 1954 : Jacques Lacan or here : Quote : (Play between M. David and O. Mannoni.)

O. MANNONI : It’s very simple, everytime I said it at random, I won. When I no longer had a rule, I often lost. The rule varied. At one point, I took the order from verses of Mallarmé, then a telephone number, a car registration number, then what’s written on the blackboard, using vowels and consonants.

JL : How many goes did you have with the first rule?

O. MANNONI: That is when I really won.

JL : That was only to keep your interest up. Now we want to have something from each of you, something written in whatever style you like – you can do it as fast as you can, and I think that the faster it is, the better it will be – while thinking that you are playing even and odd with the machine. But I ask you not to go about it the way Mannoni did. Do it at random. Show us your symbolic inertia.

(The participants play, and hand their sheets in to J. Lacan.)

p74 : (Freud 1960b [1901]) : The Psychopathology of Everyday Life : 1901 : Sigmund Freud : SE Vol. 6. pp. 8-12

p74 (Lacan 1966a, 59) : : From the Appendix ‘Parenthesis of Parentheses (1966)’ to Seminar on ‘The Purloined Letter’ : 26th April 1955 : Jacques Lacan : p45 of Bruce Fink’s translation see here : This is what allowed me to say that if the unconscious exists, in Freud’s sense of the term – I mean if we understand the implications of the lesson that he draws from the experiences of the psychopathology of everyday life, for example – it is not unthinkable that a modern calculating machine, by detecting the sentence that, unbeknown to him and in the long term, modulates a subject’s choices, could manage to win beyond any usual proportion in the game of even and odd.

This is a pure paradox, no doubt, but in it is expressed the fact that it is not because it lacks the supposed virtue of human consciousness that we refuse to call the machine to which we would attribute such fabulous performances a “thinking machine”, but simply because it would think no more than the ordinary man does, without that making him any less prey to the summonses [appels] of the signifier. : See below for the continuation of this quote.

P74 (Lacan 1978b, 350) : Seminar II, 22nd June 1955 : p303-304 of Sylvana Tomaselli’s translation (The whole session is probably relevant, but towards the end is quoted : See Seminar II: The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis: 1954-1955: begins 17th November 1954 : Jacques Lacan or here : Quote : Once we have the possibility of embodying this O, this 1, the notation of presence and absence. in the real, embodying it in a rhythm, a fundamental scansion, something moves into the real, and we are left asking ourselves – perhaps not for very long, but after all some substantial minds are doing so – whether we have a machine that thinks.

We are very well aware that this machine doesn’t think. We made the machine, and it thinks what it has been told to think. But if the machine doesn’t think, it is obvious that we don’t think either when we are performing operation. We follow the very same procedures as the machine.

The important thing here is to realise that the chain of possible combinations of the encounter can be studied as such, as an order which subsists in its rigour, independently of all subjectivity .

Through cybernetics, the symbol is embodied in an apparatus – with which it is not to be confused, the apparatus being just its support. And it is embodied in it in a literally trans-subjective way.

I’ve had to proceed by paths which may seem to you to have been long­winded. But you have to have them in your minds in order to understand the true meaning of the contribution of cybernetics, and in particular the notion of the message.

P74 (1966a, 59-60) : From the Appendix ‘Parenthesis of Parentheses (1966)’ to Seminar on ‘The Purloined Letter’ : 26th April 1955 : Jacques Lacan : p45 of Bruce Fink’s translation see here : See above quote which immediately precedes this one : Quote: Thus the possibility suggested here was of interest insofar as it conveyed to me the effect of distress and even anxiety that certain participants felt and were willing to share with me.

A reaction about which one can wax ironic, coming as it does from analysts whose entire technique relies upon the unconscious determination that is granted in that technique to so-called free association, and who can find clearly spelled out in the text by Freud that I just mentioned that a number is never chosen at random.

But it is a legitimate reaction if one considers that nothing has taught them to leave behind everyday opinion by distinguishing what it neglects, namely, the nature of Freudian overdetermination – in other words, the nature of symbolic determination such as I promote it here.

P74 (e. g. 1977, 165-166, 517) : p165-166 of Alan Sheridan’s translation : The Agency (Insistence or Instance) of the Letter in the Unconscious or Reason since Freud (Sorbonne, Paris) : 9th May 1957 : Jacques Lacan : See here : It is the function of the subject, thus introduced, that we must now turn to since it lies at the crucial point of our problem.

‘I think, therefore I am’ (cogito ergo sum) is not merely the formula in which is constituted, with the historical high point of reflection on the conditions of science,

the link between the transparency of the transcendental subject and his existential affirmation.

Perhaps I am only object and mechanism (and so nothing more than phenomenon),but assuredly in so far as I think so, I am – absolutely. No doubt philosophers have brought important corrections to this formulation, notably that in that which thinks (cogitans),I can never constitute myself as anything but
object (cogitatum). Nonetheless it remains true that by way of this extreme purification of the transcendental subject, my existential link to its project seems irrefutable, at least in its present form, and that : ‘cogito ergo sum’ ubi cogito, ibi sum, overcomes this objection.

Of course, this limits me to being therein my being only in so far as I think that I am in my thought; just how far I actually think this concerns only myself and if I say it, interests no one.

Yet to elude this problem on the pretext of its philosophical pretensions is simply to admit one’s inhibition. For the notion of subject is indispensable even to the operation of a science such as strategy (in the modern sense) whose calculations exclude all ‘subjectivism’.

It is also to deny oneself access to what might be called the Freudian universe- in the way that we speak of the Copernican universe. It was in fact the so-called Copernican revolution to which Freud himself compared his discovery, emphasizing that ‘it was once again a question of the place man assigns to himself at the centre of a universe.

Is the place that I occupy as the subject of a signifier concentric or excentric, in relation to the place I occupy as subject of the signified? – that is the question.

It is not a question of knowing whether I speak of myself in a way that conforms to what I am, but rather of knowing whether I am the same as that of which I speak. And it is not at all inappropriate to use the word ‘thought’ here. For Freud uses the term to designate the elements involved in the unconscious, that is the signifying mechanisms that we now recognize as being there.

It is nonetheless true that the philosophical cogito is at the centre of the mirage that renders modern man so sure of being himself even in his uncertainties about himself, and even in the mistrust he has learned to practise against the traps of self-love.

Furthermore, if, turning the weapon of metonymy against the nostalgia that it serves, I refuse to seek any meaning beyond tautology, if in the name of ‘war is war’ and ‘a penny’s a penny’ I decide to be only what I am, how even here can I elude the obvious fact that I am in that very act?

And it is no less true if I take myself to the other, metaphoric pole of the signifying quest, and if I dedicate myself to becoming what I am, to coming into being, l cannot doubt that even if I lose myself in the process, I am in.that process.

Now it is on these very points, where evidence will be subverted by the empirical, that the trick of the Freudian conversion lies.

This signifying game between metonymy and metaphor, up to and including the active edge that splits my desire between a refusal of the signifier and a lack of being, and links my fate to the question of my
destiny, this game ,in all its inexorable subtlety, is played until the match is called, there where I am not, because I cannot situate myself there.

That is to say, what is needed is more than these words with which, for a brief moment I disconcerted my audience : I think where I am not, therefore I am where I do not think. Words that render sensible to an ear properly attuned with what elusive ambiguity the ring of meaning flees from our grasp along the verbal thread.

What one ought to say is: I am not wherever I am the plaything of my thought; I think of what I am where I do not think to think.

This two-sided mystery is linked to the fact that the truth can be evoked only in that dimension of alibi in which all ‘realism’ in creative works takes its virtue from metonymy; it is likewise linked to this other fact that we accede to meaning only through the double twist of metaphor when we have the one and only key: the S and the s of the Saussurian algorithm are not on the same level, and man only deludes himself when he believes his true place is at their axis, which is nowhere.

Was nowhere, that is, until Freud discovered it; for if what Freud discovered isn’t that, it isn’t anything.

P75 : (1966a, 60) : ibid – see above : From the Appendix ‘Parenthesis of Parentheses (1966)’ to Seminar on ‘The Purloined Letter’ : 26th April 1955 : Jacques Lacan : p45 of Bruce Fink’s translation see here : If this overdetermination had to be considered real – as my example suggested to them, because, like everyone else, they confused the machine’s calculations with its mechanism – then, indeed, their anxiety would be justified, for in a gesture more sinister than that of touching the ax, I would be the one who brings down on “the laws of chance.” Being good determinists, those who found this gesture so moving rightly felt that if we changed these laws, there would no longer be any conceivable law at all.

But these laws are precisely those of symbolic determination. For it is clear that they predate any real observation of randomness [hasard], as is clear from the fact that we judge whether an object is apt or not to be used to obtain a series (always symbolic, in this case) of random throws according to its obedience to these laws – for example, whether or not a coin, or this object admirably known as a “die” [dé], qualifies for this function.

P74 (Lacan 1978b, 340-345) : Seminar II, 22nd June 1955 : p295 onwards of Sylvana Tomaselli’s translation (The whole session is probably relevant, but towards the end is quoted : See Seminar II: The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis: 1954-1955: begins 17th November 1954 : Jacques Lacan or here : Quote : Probably from ‘Let us think about chance for a bit. What do we mean when we say that something happens by chance? We may mean one of two things. which may be very different – either that there is no intention. or that there is a law.

: p298 ‘From the moment man thinks that the great clock of nature turns all by itself, and continues to mark the hour even when he isn’t there, the order of science is born. The order of science hangs on the following, that in officiating over nature, man has become its officious servant. He will not rule over it, except by obeying it. And like the slave, he tries to make the master dependent on him by serving him well.

He knows that nature could be on time for the rendezvous he might give it. But what is this exactitude? It is precisely the encounter of two times [temps] in nature.

There is a very great clock, which is none other than the solar system, a natural clock which had to be deciphered, and there’s no doubt that this was one of the most decisive steps in the constitution of exact science. But man must also have his clock, his watch. Who is on time [exact]? Is it nature? Is it man?

: p299 I say this to give you a sense of the fact that if one measures space with something solid, one measures time with time – which isn’t the same thing. There’s nothing surprising, under these conditions, if a certain part of our exact science comes to be summed up in a very small number of symbols. That is where our requirement that everything be expressed in terms of matter and motion comes from, I mean in terms of matter and time, since, in so far as motion t something in the real. we have in fact succeeded in eliminating it, in reducing it.

The little symbolic game in which Newton’s system and that of Einstein is summed up has in the end very little to do with the real. The science which reduces the real to several little letters, to a little bundle of formulae, will probably seem. with the hindsight of later epochs, like an amazing epic, and will also dwindle down, like an epic, to a rather short circuit.

Having considered the foundation of the exactitude of the exact sciences, namely the instrument, we might well go on to ask something else, namely – what are these places? In other words, let us concern ourselves with these places as empty.

P75 : (1966a, 61) : From the Appendix ‘Parenthesis of Parentheses (1966)’ to Seminar on ‘The Purloined Letter’ : 26th April 1955 : Jacques Lacan : p46 of Bruce Fink’s translation see here : This is why I took the very tale from which I had extracted the dubious reasoning about the game of even or odd, without seeing anything more in that tale at first. I found something useful in it that my notion of symbolic determination would have already prohibited me from considering to be simply accidental [hasard], even if it had not turned out, in the course of my examination, that Poe – as a fine precursor of research into combinatorial strategy which is in the process of revamping the order of the sciences – had been guided in his fiction by the same aim [dessein] as mine. At least I can sy that what I brought out in my exposé of it touched my audience enough for it to be at their request that I am publishing a version of it here.

 

 

December 2018 : To request a copy of any text whose weblink does not work, contact Julia Evans: je.lacanian@icloud.com  : For fuller details, see Notice : Availability of texts from LacanianWorks by Julia Evans on 7th December 2018 or here

 

 

Julia Evans

Practicing Lacanian Psychoanalyst in Earl’s Court, London

 

Further Texts

By John P. Muller here

By William J. Richardson here

By Jacques Lacan here

Topology and the Lacanian clinic here

Some Lacanian History here

Case studies : characters from fiction here

Case studies : characters from plays (and the plays) here

Écrits : 1966 : Jacques Lacan or here

Autres Écrits: 2001 : Jacques Lacan or here